Pastors Disbelieve Heaven?|
Q. Why do you suppose many pastors disbelieve a new earth and heavens (2 Peter 3:13), disbelieve a literal city called New Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-2), and disbelieve in animals populating heaven (Isaiah 65:25) even though the Bible teaches it? Furthermore, our pastor told us that pets just go to the ground and that's the end of it. (I hope he is not one of our heavenly neighbors)!
I hope your pastor is not one of our heavenly neighbors, either! Seriously though, we love animals and are grateful God intends to populate the New Earth with them (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Don't worry. Disbelieving pastors will learn otherwise when they are confronted with joyful critters surrounding their heavenly dwellings.
In fact, some of the brightest theologians point out that our churches have been thoroughly "infected" by Greek philosophy and dualism which causes them to become unbelieving of things the church has rejoiced in for centuries.
Ironically, this is something that the Apostle Paul tried to counter in his magnificent treatise on physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.
Dualism and Greek philosophy taught that the material world is somehow incompatible with a spiritual existence. Matter is evil while spirituality is good.
Surprisingly, this comfortably blends with oriental mysticism and Eastern religious thought as well. Therefore, Bible teachers who are pushing dualism and Greek philosophy in our mainstream churches are teaching heresies when they insert these philosophies into early Christian and ancient Jewish thought!
Ancient Jewish Thought
Ancient Jewish thought was the antithesis of Eastern mysticism. In Jewish thought we find biblical references to eating and drinking in heaven, living in a heavenly city with wide streets and sidewalks, no less. For example, in a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls called "A Vision of the New Jerusalem," we find descriptions such as this:
"Then he brought me into the city, and measured all the city blocks. Each block had a sidewalk around it, bordering the street," 4Q554 Frag. 2 Col. 1:12-14. (Dead Sea Scrolls 2005, 559).
That's about as tangible and physical as you can get! Astonishingly, this was written over a hundred years before Christ.
Sadly, Philo, an Alexandrian Jew (20 B.C. - 50 A.D.), undertook to understand and to embrace Plato's philosophy even though he was of Jewish ancestry. He combined Greek thought with Judaism and began to allegorize much of Scripture. Note that this method contradicted much of what Philo had learned from his Jewish predecessors.
The Egyptian city of Alexandria became the home for this blending of Jewish thought and Greek philosophy very early on. Some of the early Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen continued to teach Scripture in light of allegorizing many passages.
Bustling, Cultural City was Out
It was a brilliant, politically-correct move. As we might imagine none of the Roman emperors wanted to hear about a real king coming to replace them or of a physical New Jerusalem ruling the world rather than Rome.
Therefore, accepting a spiritual, misty, cloudy existence in a far away spirit-realm gained acceptability. In this manner church leaders likely avoided persecution.
A tangible New Jerusalem city ruled by King Yeshua and filled with real people, animals living at peace with one another, and a description of bustling, cultural activities was too much of a threat for the Roman rulers.
So then, what were a few of the early Church Fathers to make of the following reference or others like them?
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:22023, ESV).
In my dictionary "festal" means "festive." Or, "suitable for a feast or festival. Like a joyous celebration." (Webster 2001, 192). In other words, the angels were bustling about with joyful celebrations in the New Jerusalem. It was a picture of a delightful, fun city filled with activities!
Alcorn notes, "The plain meaning of living as resurrected beings in a resurrected society in a resurrected city on a resurrected Earth cannot be real, because it does not jibe with the Platonic assumption that the body is bad and the spirit good.
Consequently, Heaven cannot possibly be like what Revelation 21-22 appears to say. There could not be bodies, nations, kings, buildings, streets, gates, water, trees, and fruit, because these are physical, and what is physical is not spiritual. The prophetic statements about life on a perfect Earth are considered mere symbols of the promise of a disembodied spiritual world" (Alcorn 2004, 477).
Many Scholars carry the Allegorization Torch
Since that early time, many main-line churches believe that taking Scriptural passages concerning heaven and the end-times literally borders on heresy. This is an all too prevalent view in many American churches today.
Yet, we must remember that the ancient Jewish scholars (such as those who wrote portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls) always taught a literal, physical view of the Promised Land and the heavenly New Jerusalem.
Stumped by Pauline Writings
Pauline writings stump them. What do they do with Paul's insistence on a physical, bodily resurrection of the saints and a physical, literal New Jerusalem? (Forget animals. They are too earthy).
Does not jibe with Ancient Judaism or Christianity
So we must understand that most of the early Jewish and Christian thought does not jibe with spiritualizing away the tangible, plain meaning of the bible text.
The Bible itself is usually very clear when something is a parable, symbolic, a metaphor or an illustration. It says so! Or, it becomes apparent through a careful reading of the text.
Brave New Scholars
We need to especially thank our heavenly Father for courageous scholars who are bucking this trend like Randy Alcorn, Wayne Grudem, Mark Hitchcock, Thomas Ice, Chuck Missler, Grant Jeffrey, Erwin Lutzer, Joseph Dillow and Paul Benware.
These are notable scholars who have the courage to confront Greek philosophies which are in the Church and teach the original, ancient wisdom that proclaims heaven is real, our heavenly bodies will be real, our animals in heaven are real and our fun and joy is real!
Finally, we leave you with this:
…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the FLESH is from God(1 Jn 4:2-3, NASB).
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the FLESH (2 Jn 1:7).
Carrying this one step further, we need to recognize that to refuse to believe in the fleshly, bodily resurrection is a form of Gnosticism and ancient Greek philosophy. Teaching our children and adults that Heaven is a fairy tale, a place of wispy, ghostly beings playing airy, delicate harps, is heresy. Lets work together to change this misperception.
So let's get busy and stock our libraries with the following resources and enjoy!
Alcorn, Randy. 2004. Heaven. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale. See Appendix A, "Christoplatonism's False Assumptions," and Appendix B, "Literal and Figurative Interpretation."
Benware, Paul N. 2002. The believers payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Dillow, Joseph C. 2006 ed. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.
Emilio, V&K. Greatest heresy in 700 years. Available from: RemnantReport.com.
Grudem, Wayne. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to Biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. See especially chapter 57: "The New Heavens and New Earth," pgs. 1158-64.
Hitchcock, Mark. 2005. 55 Answers to questions about life after death. Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
Jeffrey, Grant. 1991. Heaven the last frontier. Toronto, Ontario: Frontier Research.
Lutzer, Erwin W. 1997. One minute after you die. Chicago: Moody Press.
Missler, Chuck. 2003. Heaven: what happens when you die? (Tape set). Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House. Available from: www.khouse.org.
Philo. From Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo.
Wise, Michael, Martin Abegg,&Edward Cook. 2005 ed. A new translation, the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: HarperCollins.
Authors Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA having specialized in early church history. Ken holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Both earned a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.